The Sexist

With Great Cleavage Comes Great Responsibility


A couple of months ago, I was at a house party. A couple of guys I was with started commenting on the appearance of a woman sitting across the room. She was wearing what they considered to be a very inappropriate shirt—a low-cut v-neck that revealed what registered to them as an obscene level of cleavage. They were speculating as to why a woman would wear such a shirt in public and what her intentions were in putting it on. "If I were wearing that same shirt, it wouldn't seem inappropriate at all," I noted. Of course, it wasn't really the shirt—it was the size of the woman's breasts that was deemed socially unacceptable.

Big boobs: I don't have them. And good thing, too, because if I did, I'd have to dress myself with the expectation that others would view my anatomy as inherently obscene. This week, plus-size clothing company Lane Bryant accused FOX and ABC of refusing to air its latest lingerie commercial over decency concerns. The central objection? Lane Bryant's well-endowed underwear models revealed cleavage that was just too ample. The low-down, from Ad Week:

In a post on LB's Inside Curve blog, the company complains that "ABC and Fox have made the decision to define beauty for you by denying our new, groundbreaking Cacique commercial from airing freely on their networks." . . . The post also claims that ABC "restricted our airtime" and refused to air the spot during Dancing With the Stars, while Fox "demanded excessive re-edits and rebuffed it three times before relenting to air it during the final 10 minutes of American Idol, but only after we threatened to pull the ad buy."

The post continues: "Yes, these are the same networks that have scantily-clad housewives so desperate they seduce every man on the block—and don't forget Bart Simpson, who has shown us the moon more often than NASA—all in what they call 'family hour.'"

The ad depicts several attractive, plus-sized models in the latest line of Lane Bryant lingerie. Ample cleavage—which Bryant says was a problem for the nets—is on display in the ad. "The networks exclaimed, 'She has . . . cleavage!' Gasp!'' the blog post states.

Ah, "ample cleavage"—not to be confused with the socially acceptable amount of cleavage displayed by Victoria's -Secret-sized models, who generally possess large—but apparently not obscenely large—breasts. Fox and ABC didn't respond to Ad Week's request for comment; Lane Bryant has since removed the accusatory post from its blog, Inside Curve, but it still touts the offending ad on its website as "The Lingerie Commercial Fox and ABC Didn't Want Its Viewers to See."

The lesson, ladies, is that great cleavage comes with great responsibility. People who shame women for wearing "too-revealing" clothes like to center their objections on women's clothing "choices," but make no mistake—this is not about what we choose. This is about the things we don't choose—having chests or butts or legs or necks or hair or any other part of our human bodies that others decide to project their particular sexual interests—and their slut-shaming—upon. The man who is horrified at a woman's "overly exposed" breasts will likely never have to worry about wearing one shirt—one shirt out of a lifetime of shirts—that happens to accidentally set off some random person's slut meter, because of the way his body just is. And because my breasts are smaller, less visible, less imposing than other women's breasts—because there's less boob there—I can feel free to wear the more revealing top without attracting claims of public obscenity. It seems that some women's bodies are just naturally sluttier than other women's bodies—and all women's bodies are naturally sluttier than men's bodies.

  • gita

    Em, you are great, but I must say that I loved Mean Girls - it probably helps that I saw it as I was just entering high school, which is basically the perfect time to see it.

  • Em

    Gita, I loved it too, haha. It's not a good movie, but it's a damn entertaining movie. And I use that one quote a lot because damn, women are MEAN to other women.

  • Kristina

    I agree with Em's Mean Girls quote (and also with gita that Mean Girls is pretty fantastic for what it's worth!), and also that you can't leave them at home. A fitted t-shirt is quite enough for women to be rude and men to ogle disgustingly. We end up with a choice of either wearing a too-big shirt to hide our boobs, (making us look sloppy and also much bigger), or wearing a shirt that fits but, because of our breasts, is deemed "slutty". Such a no-win situation is unfair, especially when it's mostly perpetuated by women hating other women. My mother taught me pride in my body, just the way it is. Other women should be so kind to themselves and others. We should not be waging an internal war...

  • Joliska

    @ Kristina
    I will try to remember to take pride in my body, and love my body, even if it is not accepted by society's standards.
    It helps to have reminders, and to hear other people say it.

  • gita


    Oh, I definitely recognize that Mean Girls is in a lot of ways trashy, but I am so fascinated by trash. But I also think that particular film is the kind of trash that can do a lot of good in the world - for me as a 13 year old girl, it made me re-assess the way I related to the other girls around me, and in specific influenced me to stop calling girls "sluts," or "whores." On a grander scale, while Mean Girls does fall into a lot of the harmful tropes of teen sex comedies, it sets a better example for the ways that girls can be portrayed as both people and sexual beings in those types of film. I do not mean that it is perfect, but Regina, Cady and Janis are all much fuller characters than, say, Jules and Becca from Superbad. Or hell, to use an example that features girls in the primary cast, the characters from Mean Girls are so much fuller than the three leads from John Tucker Must Die.

    I could write a whole lot about trash vs. art and female sexuality on film, but I really don't want to derail this conversation any more than it already has been.

    We end up with a choice of either wearing a too-big shirt to hide our boobs, (making us look sloppy and also much bigger), or wearing a shirt that fits but, because of our breasts, is deemed “slutty”. Such a no-win situation is unfair, especially when it’s mostly perpetuated by women hating other women.

    Absolutely! Also, I wish I had a mother as nice as yours. I love my mom dearly, but I am in my 20s and she continues to tell me to change my clothes if I wear a v-neck shirt.

  • Kristina

    @Joliska That is lovely to hear! Ladies can be wonderful and beautiful no matter what! I am part Puerto Rican, and that gave me curves that aren't often found on a light-skinned lady (which I also am!), so it's sometimes hard to remember to love what you have and I can relate to that! But it's so, so important to love what you have right now and not dwell on "if I were only lighter/darker/thinner/thicker/smarter/more acceptable"... The catch-22 of being comfortable in our own skins is that, as ladies, we are not supposed to be assertive and forthcoming, but if we are not we are weak. As much as some might want us to stay that way, I think we have a right to be proud and happy. Isn't that what the goal is? And if happy for you is deemed "slutty" or "unattractive" to someone else, pardon my language, but FUCK THEM.

  • Kristina

    @gita Aww my mom actually tells me how beautiful I am constantly. I didn't have that growing up (which, long story, but unfortunately didn't happen around her), so it helps to have it a little bit now! She always says that she loves that I'm beautiful in that way that Victorian women were beautiful, (which is to say that I'm curvycurvycurvy but still beautiful, dammit!), and that she loves it. It's pretty damn nice.

    And, for whatever it's worth, let's have a hug-fest. I'm sure you are beautiful no matter what you are wearing! ESPECIALLY if you think you are! That's the most wonderful and important thing of all...

  • gita

    Kristina, you are the sweetest person in the world :). My mom does tell me I'm beautiful, but it's always tempered with the idea that I must hide my body lest I send men into crazed fits of lust.

    I had a fiction workshop in high school (it was an arts magnet school) and maybe one of the most significant things I gathered from it was something my teacher said in passing - my body is not a work in progress. It's taken me a long time to accept my body as beautiful and really love it, but I think I am finally there now.

  • TJ

    @Kristina, this is actually pretty helpful to me... :)

    One of the questions that I have always asked (and asked it on this blog) was what can we do, as women, to combat the lack of respect we get from society because of our appearance. I always said that there is a level of personal responsibility if we expect respect for the overall human being (because we are more than just females, we are whole beings) we are. I think what you are saying, that we need to be happy and comfortable in our own skin, is a great first step. If everyone took just THAT level of responsibility, then we as women would be less inclined to criticize the next woman.

    I think getting over that hurdle would make the issues that we have with how men perceive us to be much less of a problem. But I think it's exacerbated by the fact that we are joining in on the tsk-tsking (I fall victim to it, I can admit).

  • Crazy Cat Lady

    I hate shopping because every clothing decision I've made since I was 11 has been oriented around hiding my curves. The only clothing decision this doesn't affect is shoes and jewelry. In the past few years I've learned to be more accepting of my body, but I still find myself spending free time thinking of strategic ways to make my boobs and backside look smaller. As someone who actually does a really good job of disguising her endowment, let me tell you that it takes a LOT of work to look "decent" and also not like a bag lady. (I actually went with the bag lady look in jr. high. All my pictures from then feature me in baggy jeans and XL t-shirts.) Like I said, I've loosened (or tightened, ha, ha,) up in the past few years, and now I'm not too bothered if my boatneck shirt might flash someone when I lean over, or if my boobs raising the front edge of my shirt might reveal some tummy when I reach up, but while I've found my own, non-guilt-related reasons for constraining my cleavage (including the looks of happiness and awe from partners who suddenly realize the full volume of what they now have access to), I fully understand when other busty women don't feel like dedicating that many woman-hours to such a cause and just wear what they feel like wearing.

  • Brandon

    It's your writing that's revealing, Amanda. Thanks for the valuable insight.

  • mike hawke

    As a guy, I have a similar problem. Whenever I go out in anything but the baggiest of pants, all the women stare at my ginormous man-meat sausage. It's sooo embarassing!


    BRAVO!!! I stand at 5'10 and at 42 look to be 27 which is odd because I did not start growing cleavage until that age. I was a size 10 fashion and runway model in the 80's. Today I am too small for Lane Bryant and too big for Victoria's Secret ... or should I say as a model I would not be acceptable for VS but I do wear their Bras and Panties as I would be more appropriately sized to model for LB but their clothes and bras are made for plus-size and over weight women and I need to altar there clothing to fit.

    Now a size 16, I am considered muscular - big-boned and voluptuous all in one. To my surprise upon moving to DC a few years ago I learned that women sexualize other women just as much if not more than men do. Men fantasize about us sexually but women viciously feel an immense need to size or measure up to a big breasted female they deem to get more attention than a smaller chested female.

    There becomes this competitive stare down and sometimes a comment here and there - NO MATTER WHAT TYPE OF SHIRT I AM WEARING - I CAN NOT HIDE THEM! I have worn scarves to conceal the cleavage line but then something else flattering stands out - so this spring and summer for the first time I have decided to let them fall where they may and celebrate being me no matter what anyone is thinking.

    Henceforth my constant dilemma: Having big breast is not my desire to take your man or get a man but rather to be comfortable in hot weather and fashionable at the same time without having to compromise my body-mind and spirit to accommodate someone elses comfortability or fantasies.
    It saddens me when I hear another celebrity bought implants when I wish genetically to have been able to stay smaller - I did have to realize that in a nutshell it would not really have mattered all that much since even then I was subjected to stares - glares and sexual perverts desires. I think people watch too much tv and constantly feel a need to scapegoat why they do not have something vs what someone else appears to have. So ladies - I know I can get any man I desire but I have chosen to remain celibate because I have not found any men worth my desires. It is not the size of my boobs that I want to get a man's attentions for but the size of his heart and desire to make a committment to me - anything less is prostitution and I ain't that desperate.

    The decision to not run the commercials shows that our society - men in general who run the networks are not ready to see woman below the bra line as worthy of being looked at as sexy. The success of VS commercials is due to small women who are top heavy but fantastically sized enough to throw up and down on a man's lap like a Barbie Doll. When women start supporting each other for all body types and stop the envyliscious viciousness done to other attractive women - then we can change society!

  • Eo


    @Eo… wow. That’s gross.

    Too funny on a post about idiots making stupid comments about how others look TJ.

  • Conrad Davis

    Stop complaining assholes!

    Shut up and stare.

  • Mrs. D

    Yes, Jules, let's have a big boobies happy hour occasionally!!!! Amanda...make this happen??!!?? I'm a 36 DD, and I'm so grateful for my current awesome (1) female coworker. One day, I wore a shirt that did, admittedly, qualify for one of my male colleagues comments to the other (1) female staffer in my office of "hey, Mrs. D is totally rocking out the cleavage today!" BUT, I wore that shirt underneath of a nice, concealing jacket. My awesome (1) female coworker's response was "AND??????"

    In my life I have been exposed to (1) 19 years old, working at a retail job, 16-year-old-ish douchecanoe comes in and says, to my face "holy titties batman!" (our uniform was long pants and a loose polo), (2) 14 YEARS OLD, walking through a BBQ festival with my 15 YEAR OLD FRIEND..."hey, room for 2 in that shirt?" (simple button-down, nothing revealing), and (3) many times, walking through a bar, dressed casually, guy looks me up and down and smiles and nods. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??!!??

  • Mrs. D

    Oh, I should also say that in many places it's totally legal for a woman to go topless (Ohio in general and Community Festival in Columbus, Ohio, specifically is a safe place for women to go topless if they choose). Also, a fitted v-neck tshirt is enough for me to draw stares, so STFU. Even a button-down big enough that it looks sloppy on me (no pulling at any of the buttons, huge around the waist) is enough to make people look, so, outside of a burka, what, exactly, is it that I'm supposed to wear? All because my genetics gave me larger mammary glands? Look if you want, but expect to get called out as a pig/superficial bitch if you make it too obvious.

  • Amanda Hess

    Oh man, I'm not sure I'm the best person to organize a large-breasted happy hour. My boobs are small and therefore insulated from the slutshaming!

  • PD

    True, Amanda, but all boobs are great, and I'm never opposed to an opportunity to celebrate that.

  • Gillian

    I wear 36FF. The UK high street cuts clothing to an average 36C. This is why I mainly wear T-shirts when the weather turns warm. I haven't worn a shirt or anything that buttons down the middle since I was eighteen, and summer dresses can be a problem as no matter how modest the neckline is it ends up with both the Mitchell Bros hanging out. I'm not far off 6ft and have US Size 11 feet, so next to an 'average' size woman I often feel like some kind of scaled-up prototype.

    "for some reason commercials seem to be held to a tamer standard than the programs they suppport."

    Don't know about the States but in the UK the thinking is that people choose to watch the programmes, and so expect the content, but not the advertisements.

    "When I would go out as a single woman and fly the flag, I would expect stares and comments, because that is their right"

    Stares, possibly. Comments, fuck no. If you saw a fat woman eating a hot dog, is it your 'right' to tell her she shouldn't be doing that? Also, the point here is that many of us more endowed women can't help but 'fly the flag'. Shirts will not fit me. I don't own a suit, because I would have to get one three sizes bigger than my frame to get it to close over my boobs. What do you recommend I wear in order to prevent those who are exercising their right to make inappropriate comments about me to leave me alone? Because even a burkha's going to cling somewhere.

  • Em

    @Gillian: "Because even a burkha's going to cling somewhere."

    YES. Hahaha. That made me laugh. I'm going to use that line the next time I get shit, because it is TRUE. Prominent boobs (or prominent asses, for that matter) are going to show at least a little no matter what you do. I sometimes get the most harassment in my purposefully baggy exercise clothes. So I might as well dress cute when I want because, alas, it does not matter.

  • cdog

    “When I would go out as a single woman and fly the flag, I would expect stares and comments, because that is their right”

    Aye, there's the rub. The assumption that being young with large breasts = flying the flag. Not so. But it's assumed – why is that?

    Seems a lot of this appears to be related to age – as in, different age groups have different clothing styles. An 18 year old is not going to dress like Hillary Clinton. And vice versa, Hillary Clinton does not dress like an 18 year old. And neither should be judged for not trying to look more like the other.

  • Amanda Hess


    interesting that you mention Hillary, who was absolutely picked apart on the, like, one day that she showed some cleave. we're prepared for a woman president ... just not one with boobs.

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  • Dominique

    @mc about the whole "does she just wish she had some cleavage of her own?" - we women certainly judge each other as much as men judge us (hint: it's called internal colonization, with the colonized fulfilling the policing functions of the colonizers). However, not all reactions are due to jealousy. That's a patriarchal assumption (i.e., "all women want to be pretty/sexy" - because after all, it's a woman's "job" to do this, and if another woman does it better than you, you are just jealous. Maybe not. Maybe it's a discomfort with the whole patriarchal value placed on appearance, in general. That discomfort is perfectly legitimate and understandable, if misdirected toward those women who unwittingly, or unwillingly, fit the patriarchal mold imposed upon all of us).

  • Caity

    Wow! I've gotta say that I'm actually a little relieved that I'm not the only one with this problem. I'm all of five feet with a 36D chest, and I've been like that since I was about 12 (most embarassing moment of elementary school: little sister hooking my bras together in 4th grade and hanging them out the window while yelling at the neighborhood boys to come look).

    They probably wouldn't be that big on someone a bit taller, but I'm short and otherwise pretty slender/fit. I actually go to a great deal of trouble sometimes to adjust clothing so that I could wear it in public. My fiance used to wonder WHY I totally hid them...until we went out to a bar on campus one Halloween and heard comments (from across the street) and saw some guy grope me. There were girls there wearing a LOT less, but boobs are creep magnets I guess. It's too bad, I really did like the dress I had on, but it got me a bit too much negative attention :(

  • J

    Note the irony that fucking PAM ANDERSON is on Dancing with the (Porn?) Stars.

    I can't even being to pilfer through this mind boggling contradiction without becoming dizzingly confused.

  • J

    Correction: I can't even *begin*

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  • NJL

    I have two major grips:
    1. After many years of complaining that Lane Bryant does not use large size model in any of their catelogs misrepresenting the size, look, drapping, length, etc. of their clothes........... they use one and get banned. Unbelievable

    2. The banning is blatant discrimination against the large size woman. Shame on these network for showing many programs and commercial with thin woman and banning this one. Lane Bryant should sue.

  • Robert Morrow

    “If I were wearing that same shirt, it wouldn’t seem inappropriate at all,” I noted. Of course, it wasn’t really the shirt—it was the size of the woman’s breasts that was deemed socially unacceptable."

    BINGO! Jealous bitches ...

  • DanceDreaming

    Robert: The people making the comments were, as Amanda states, -guys-. Not 'jealous bitches'. Also see Dominique's comment #74. Also, you're comment is rude and inappropriate.

  • Rio

    At least she (that model ) will be OK in Australia where A and B cups are too small for nude tv as they are "childlike". Women and men can't win for the bigotry of others.

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  • Em

    @Rio--wow, that's sad that physical diversity can't be embraced anywhere. My friend group all has a variety of boob sizes and body types and they're all lovely women. If the culture could just accept that instead of shoving women into cookie-cutter molds none of us can fit--especially since the mold is always changing and never healthy.

  • Tasha

    As a woman with "epic cleavage" too (I can't remember who Im quoting here, but thanks, its a great line),I've just accepted that men AND women are going to look at my chest...whatever, if it gives them a thrill, fine, great....but I draw the line at gratuitous drive by boobie grabbing by strangers...which is not as uncommon as I would like unfortunately.

  • am

    i really appreciate this. I think it also affects the way business or work-appropriate clothes are viewed. I'm a fairly short girl, VERY small, but rather on the large side in other areas (30/32 D). My coworkers often wear rather bodyconcious dresses to work, clingy but not obscene. Not a chance I could wear the same thing to anywhere other than a bar or party. My boobs just stick out too far compared to my body to the point where it's not really sexy, it's just awkward for me. My nickname in high school was "tits on a stick." My friends say they envy my body - but I've been uncomfortable about it for so long I don't really embrace the fun sides anymore.